The Anthea Turner Prize

Some very high-profile artists put their reputations on the chopping block in a one-night-only anonymous art show

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On Sunday evening, various artists from all over the world will be exhibiting their works anonymously alongside works by amateur artists, hobbyists and children in the abstract painter Heidi Locher's massive studio space. In attendence will be those who are exhibiting and their friends, all of whom will be invited to judge the merit of each piece of work during the course of the evening with a finite number of star-shaped stickers. At the end of the night, all of the artists will be asked to stand by their work, which should prove to be very interesting indeed. The Anthea Turner Prize is the brainchild of the acclaimed LA-based British screenwriter and film director Simon Moore. In a grimy pub in the backstreets of King's Cross we quizzed him as to why it was so important to him to challenge media-constructed hierarchies.

Dazed Digital: Why have you and Heidi put together an anonymous art show?
Simon Moore:
For many years, I’ve had this idea for an anonymous exhibition with only artists attending and nobody knowing who has created what; something that isn’t too controlled or considered. Heidi told me she had this space for a limited time and that we could do it there, so we set a date and started pulling in work from all over the world. There’s going to be art from kids, professionals, amateurs and people in between exhibited, and the idea that you are not allowed to know who is who puts everybody in a position of vulnerability. When we put out the initial email explaining it to the people we wanted involved, half of them responded saying, ‘That’s an amazing idea, I am in!’ and the other half immediately responded with something that was quite close to panic: ‘What must I do? What are the rules? Will I be embarrassed?' For some of the established artists it seemed to be a very unsettling proposition, and for others it seemed liberating, something really naked comes out the whole process and that’s great.

DD: And you are exhibiting a piece of your own?
SM:
 Yes, but because I am not an artist, to put a piece in is no big deal – if people like it and stick thier little stars on it then great, if they don’t, they don’t. If you are an established artist that’s quite a high stakes thing. If people don’t respond to your work without the usual prerequisite of having been informed that it is by a major artist, how will they respond? I mean, I would love to see something by the likes of Jeff Koons, without the inherent value it has just because it is by him; it would interesting to just have people see the work and say whether they liked it or not. That is why we are trying to get a major art critic along to say, ‘That’s good and that’s bad; that means something and that doesn’t.’ People are scared of having an opinion on something that isn’t backed up by some kind of history, hype or context.

DD: In a sense then, you are seeking to subvert all of these hierarchies ...
SM:
 For an artist, it’s about whether you sell to the right people, whether the collectors are interested and whether you get the right kind of reviews. For me, to create a fog in front of that is really interesting. Something mysterious also happens when you don’t attach yourself to things; when you just present something anonymously. I mean, probably half of the people who turn up will be people who have some kind of connection with each other, and it’s very interesting whether they will be able to tell whose work is whose just from looking at it. In other words, is your identity so obvious that your friends will be able to see what you have done? At the end of the night, we are going to ask the artists to stand by their works, and I think that will throw up some big surprises.

DD: Are there parallels with the hype machine that fuels the film industry?
SM:
 In my own area, particularly in films, you are either disproportionately criticised or you are disproportionately praised, and the difference that exists between the movies that become 'must-sees' and the movies that hardly anybody sees seems to me to be tiny, if indeed there is any difference at all. For some reason, and it’s often put down to the zeitgeist or whatever, a film like Juno is suddenly hailed as a masterpiece when it could just as easily have been one of those films that most people never see.

DD: Do you think the hype machine, where we put one or two artists and films on a pedestal and dismiss so many others, is a mirror of capitalism? In a sense, could this exhibition be said to have a communist political aspect?
SM:
 That’s very much at the heart of it. I feel that the beauty will rise and the standards will set themselves, but we are not allowing anybody to set those standards in the way they are so often set. In my world, I recently asked a guy very high up in one of the Hollywood studios if it worried him that it now costs 150million dollars to make a movie and he said it was quite the opposite. He said that as far as the sudios were concerned, the more expensive the film was the better, because it’s like a high stakes poker game where only the people who put a million dollars down can join. When you say a movie will cost that much to make, what you do is rule out most of the competition – by making it more expensive and exclusive you are making it safer by pushing the other people out of the club. It’s the same in the art gallery system. Gallerists need the game to be very exclusive, they don’t really want a situation where anybody can show anything, in the same way that the Hollywood studios don’t want an environment where anyone can make a film.
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